Are officials hiding the truth about Ohio’s toxic train crash?

David Pakman
Liberal Opinion

David Pakman

Host of The David Pakman Show
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Five of the 38 train cars that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio were carrying large amounts of the carcinogenic gas vinyl chloride, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary investigation. Exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride can increase the risk of cancer, and many residents in the area have been reporting cases of dizziness, rashes, headaches, and even chemical bronchitis. Meanwhile, environmental officials say they’ve conducted tests on air and water samples and, so far at least, they see no signs of risk to local residents.

Straight Arrow News contributor David Pakman takes a look at some historical examples of authorities being less than transparent about the dangers of toxic chemicals and wonders if that same problem is recurring in Ohio.

The Love Canal is a neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York, and a lot of homes there were built on top of a toxic waste dump. And the chemicals in the dump were linked to health problems in the community. This included higher rates of cancer and higher rates of birth defects. The governments involved initially downplayed those risks and took years to evacuate residents even though it should have been done right away. 

More recently: the Flint water crisis. This started, I believe it was in 2014 in Flint, Michigan, and the idea was — change the drinking water source to the Flint River. It’s going to be cheaper, it’s going to be more efficient, whatever. And it turned out that it was extraordinarily corrosive. There was lead leaching from the pipes into the water supply. And to a criminal degree — people have been indicted for this — to a criminal degree, the risks were downplayed and Flint is still on bottled drinking water. And we are almost a decade in. That’s not some example from forty, fifty years ago. That’s an example from right now. 

You’ve got Three Mile Island, Agent Orange and all sorts of different deception and ignorance about the truly damaging nature of these chemicals.

As we deal with the aftermath of the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment, there is all sorts of blame and speculation about what took place, not all of it, which we have answers to right now. 

But one of the growing refrains that I’m hearing is that concerns that residents aren’t being told the whole truth about toxic chemicals potentially in the water, air and soil is a conspiracy theory. It is not a conspiracy theory. It is a reasonable concern based on historical aspects of these sorts of incidents that we have seen. So there’s been a new New York Times piece which says that residents of Ohio in the area of the train derailment have started looking for their own ways to test the water and the soil and the air. 

And this includes finding sort of consumer level tests or even bringing in companies to conduct these tests. And some have responded by saying, Listen, the official said everything’s fine, so everything’s fine. This is not a conspiracy program that I do. I am a debunker of conspiracy theories. But there are lots of good reasons to be concerned that without necessarily pointing to deliberate dishonesty, the full story of what is happening chemically in the area of the derailment may not be known. We have many examples from history, either of ignorance about the truly damaging nature of certain chemicals, or deliberately misleading for profit, because we are talking about for-profit corporations here. We even have examples that have been both like, for example, when you look at something like tobacco, there was a period where it wasn’t known that smoking cigarettes is terrible for your health. So that was ignorance. 

We then also found out that the tobacco industry, once they learned the risks of smoking, still denied it and executed extraordinarily well-funded disinformation campaigns to cast doubt about the science on cigarette smoking, which found that it’s really, really bad for your health. Tobacco is an example of both, we had the ignorance element, which then shifted over into the deception element. And there are many other such examples. 

One is the Love Canal fiasco of the 1970s. In the Love Canal, it’s a neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York. And a lot of homes there were built on top of a toxic waste dump. And the chemicals in the dump were linked to health problems in the community. This included higher rates of cancer and higher rates of birth defects. The governments involved initially downplayed those risks and took years to evacuate residents even though it should have been done right away. 

More recently, the Flint water crisis. This started, I believe it was in 2014, in Flint, Michigan, and the idea was – change the drinking water source to the Flint River. It’s going to be cheaper, it’s going to be more efficient, whatever. And it turned out that it was extraordinarily corrosive, there was lead leaching from the pipes into the water supply. And to a criminal degree – people have been indicted for this – to a criminal degree, the risks were downplayed and Flint is still on bottled drinking water. And we are almost a decade in. That’s not some example from 40, 50 years ago. That’s an example from right now. 

You’ve got Three Mile Island, Agent Orange and all sorts of different deception and ignorance about the truly damaging nature of these chemicals. 

So do I hope that it is true that it is okay, generally speaking, in the area of the train derailment? Yeah, I do. I hope that it is true. Am I convinced? No. And if I had the – if I lived in that area and had the means, I would probably temporarily leave. Most of the people in that area don’t have the means. So of course they should only be drinking bottled water, but we need more information and more should be known. 

Now, there have been some on the right very critical of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg related to the derailment. I don’t believe it is fair to blame Buttigieg for the derailment. But I think it is increasingly fair to say that he has not been visible and aggressive enough, aggressive enough when it comes to the aftermath. So even though I’m on the left, I have absolutely no problem whatsoever calling out democratic officials when I believe they are not completely holding up their end of the bargain so to speak. 

And I can’t say I think Pete Buttigieg is doing a perfect job by any means. I don’t blame him for what happened. Train derailments historically have actually been declining. There are many train derailments every year. The numbers have continued to decline. I don’t think it’s fair to blame him that it happened, but the response has been less than ideal. But agree with me, disagree with me, let me know in the comments.


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